Sunflower Dead emerged from backstage clothed in roughly matching black outfits and decked out in black and white face paint with assorted accoutrements, up to an including an introductory accordion. The crowd didn’t seem to know what to expect, but was instantly drawn in by the magnetic stage personality of the band’s vocalist, who goes simply by “Michael.” Seeing him on stage, he stammers and stumbles about like the ill-gotten son of Frankenstein’s Monster, or Uncle Fester on a three-day bender, but his antics are incredibly charming in their own way. He’s backed in turn by a band which channels, if not that exact stage metaphor, the spirit with which it is presented. For all the get up and costumed act, Sunflower Dead is a band having fun, and they’d like you to have fun, too.
Two things set this band apart and the first is the singing prowess of Michael himself. This guy can sing, no doubt about it. Sure, he goes deep for the death metal growl when he needs to, but the point is, he doesn’t need to. His singing is clear and carries all the necessary weight of the message, no more than in the single “Wasted.” The second aspect of their live set which suitably impresses is the definition of instruments on stage. Despite the amps and effects and natural echo of the venue, each instrument is separate and has a defining character, truly coming together in the listener’s ears to create the spectacle.
Topping this all off, the band showcased their talent in a metalized, straight-faced, reimagining cover of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.”
Hed PE had a moment. For a brief spell, they were on the fervent upswing, a burgeoning up and comer that seemed primed to fill the void left by the long absence of Rage Against the Machine and Bad Brains. They had all the requisite elements – a caustic mix of reggae, rap, west coast punk, metal and reckless abandon. As these things do however, their star faded and the band returned to the shadows, grinding out tours and albums with passion as their guide. On this night, the passion was evident, both from performers and fans, the power of the instruments amplified and cast as a net over the willing participants assembled in the mosh pit below. Vocalist and public face Jared Gomes remains as powerful and defiant as ever, screaming in the face of public opinion and embracing those closest to him, be they family or fan. It’s an affect that fits the mold for Hed PE, as they rage against the machinations of fame and a fickle public eye that turned its back on the band.
Hed PE’s set washed over the crowd in a torrent, never stopping for a second through the first three quarters of their offering. The punishment was overblown and affronting, a challenge to any who would try and deny its power. The band stormed ahead without a hint of elegance, tossing hardcore-inspired riffs out in bunches to the excitement of the faithful. For all that though, the presentation was messy, dotted too often with anecdotal introductions. As time wore on, Hed PE struggled to hold attention as their set dissolved into a sort of madness, with a scattering of old-school west coast punk songs and a long reggae interlude that was fine for what it was, but seemed out of place and sudden.
“Invade Destroy Repeat” began the proceedings and rightfully so. Spider’s snarled invective “this is a message/and a warning/there’s no escaping here/or avoiding” was a capable scene setter for the hits to follow. What came after was a flood of new material, including “How to be a Human,” “You’re Gonna Love it If you Like it or Not” and an excellent, snappy “We Want it All.”
Spider himself remains the spark plug from which the entire Powerman 5000 engine ignites. His energy, just as it was ten years ago, or back in 1999, remains contagious, as he constantly urges the crowd to jump, sway, clap and sing, leading by example every few seconds with a new twirl or something else from his bag of tried and tested rock moves.
The set on this night was short (curiously so, clocking in at about fifty minutes,) but the band got a lot done in not much time, cruising their back catalog for a thumping “Horror Show,” and the natural, unforgettable selections of the seminal “Tonight the Stars Revolt!” like “Nobody’s Real” and “When Worlds Collide.”
Not so long ago when we spoke, Spider told me in passing that every night they play “Bombshell” and the crowd loves it. True to those words, the lone single from the mysterious and embattled “Anyone for Doomsday?” appeared in the second half to raucous applause and some of the best crowd reaction of the night.
Nevertheless, this was a night for the new, and the cuts from “Builders of the Future” clogged the setlist, leading a dominant performance by a band set to prove that metal can be poppy and still muscle with the best of them.